In a not-so-great start to the game, Miles Wood chases Charlie McAvoy on the forecheck just 15 seconds into the period, gets tangled up on the turn, and hits the ice clutching his leg. He does return to the ice for his next shift though fortunately, in a game where his presence is looking more important than ever. The name of tonight’s gameplay is FAST, and not showing signs of slowing any time soon, so Wood’s talents would be sorely missed if he was seriously injured.
Though speed is supposed to be our young team’s best trick, Boston is beating us at our own game so far this period. There’s a lot of back and forth, but the Devils aren’t able to set up much in the offensive zone when they get there, whereas the Bruins are at least getting a shot or two off on each entry. They’re also collecting all the rebounds— our rebounds (which haven’t hit the net yet), their rebounds, my U16 roller hockey team’s rebounds, they’re just picking up everything. The Devils are keeping up with their feet, but they need to wake up their sticks and get a bit more active around the puck.
The Bruins have clearly not forgotten that a win tonight clinches the playoffs for them. Roughly halfway through the first period and the Bruins have the first 11 shots on net. The Devils have none. It’s not for lack of trying, but the young Devils are getting absolutely handled by the more experienced Boston right now. Boston is playing with much sharper defense, making clean passes, taking shots left and right, while the Devils are struggling to keep up, and making sloppy passes of their own.
Brad Marchand looks to take the lead for the Bruins after a Jack Hughes turnover, but he’s hounded by Hughes and Boqvist and met at the doorstep by Scott Wedgewood. Wedgewood makes the save while Marchand’s momentum takes him flying into the corner boards. I may have laughed. He probably did not.
The Devils finally get some action going off the ensuing faceoff, with Smith and Bahl leading the charge with bombs from the point. The Bruins are able to clear the zone and Taylor Hall attempts to carry into the Devils zone. He is stopped swiftly by Kevin Bahl, which is just poetry in motion.
As the period starts to wind down Pavel Zacha finds Nico Hischier in transition and suddenly the Devils are on a two-on-one, Hischier takes a nice wrist shot but Rask kicks out the save and there is no Devil there to pick up the rebound.
The period mercifully ends with the score still 0-0 despite the Bruins outshooting us 17-4.
The teams take the ice again for the second period, and the pace does not appear to be letting up any time soon. The Bruins get a few shots on net that Wedgewood is able to fight off, the zone is cleared by McLeod up to Wood who races into the zone and tries to power move against Sean Kuraly into the net. He isn’t able to fight him off but he does backhand the puck on net and at least forces Rask to make another save, lest he get bored down there again this period.
Sharangovitch and Kuokkanen are sprung for a two-on-one by Jack Hughes. Sharangovitch feeds Kuokkanen, who is able to get the shot off but it’s saved by Rask. Kuokkanen then trips over Kevin Miller and slams full speed into the boards, face forward. He does leave the ice on his own but slowly so now hopefully he’s okay too.
The Bruins keep the onslaught coming offensively, and finally beat Scott Wedgewood on shot number 26. Zborill takes the puck at the point and finds Nick Ritchie low across the ice, nearly on the goal line. Wedgewood is able to get over but just barely misses the shot with the glove and it finds the back of the net. Bruins take the lead 1-0.
Wedgewood had been looking confident and comfortable prior to the goal, making saves with ease and even a little flourish, so hopefully this doesn’t rattle him too much.
The Devils defense isn’t doing him any favors, unfortunately. They turn the puck over to a wide-open Pastrnak in the middle of the offensive zone, though he’s able to make the save.
Rask attempts to play the puck behind his own net but is stripped by Miles Wood. Unfortunately, no one on the planet is able to keep up with him, so he’s got no one to pass the puck to for the shot. Pavel Zacha is able to get a nice shot off on the ensuing shift, but Rask is in typical Rask form.
Back the other way, the so-called perfection line goes to work. Wedgewood makes a big save on Pastrnak, but the Bruins are able to recover the rebound. Marchand takes the puck behind the net then finds a wide-open Patrice Bergeron in the front of the net, who hammers it home past Wedgewood to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead heading into the second intermission.
The Devils continue to have trouble getting their offense really going as the third period gets underway. They manage to set up in the offensive zone, drop the puck to a rushing Bahl who attempts to deliver what would have been an absolute bomb (Bahlm?) but the stick breaks and the Bruins get the clear.
AJ Greer endears himself to the fans in his first game as a Devil by dropping the gloves with Connor Clifton following Greer’s boarding on Zboril, though the ensuing powerplay for the Bruins is nothing I’m too happy with.
The Devils kill the penalty successfully and pick up Miles Wood coming out of the box from serving Greer’s minor. Wood is able to feed Kuokkanen but the Bruins break up the oncoming play.
On his next shift, Kuokkanen is hauled down next to the net by Zboril, giving the Devils a relatively quick make-up penalty and Zboril and Clifton some time to chat in the penalty box. Attempting to create any form of offense against the excellent penalty kill of the Bruins, however, is just not going to happen for this young offense that’s just beginning to find their sync in the powerplay.
Sync, or lack thereof, is the main issue for the Devils tonight, and it continues to plague them through the entirety of the man advantage. Even during the opportunities they do get, their passes are just a bit too hard or too far away, their shots just miss the net, their drops are just a bit too early for someone to be there to pick it up. It's the effect of playing against an experienced, skilled team playing at a high level like the Bruins have suddenly found this season as the playoffs draw closer.
The Devils aren’t able to get much action going on the powerplay but it does seem to have given them some kick in their step. Hischier picks up a pass in front of the net but Rask has the net closed off and Hischier is in too tight to make a move. Boqvist is the next Devils to find the puck on his stick in tight but again, Rask is there to seal off the crease.
The Bruins aren’t done yet though. Back into the Devils zone, Matt Gryzlyck rips a bouncing shot off the leg of Ryan Murray, which redirects it past Wedgewood and into the net to give the Bruins a 3 point lead with just over two minutes left to go in the game.
The Devils opt not to pull Scott Wedgewood, which my soul appreciates since we were not going to come back from down 3-0 and we would probably have allowed at least one empty net goal, so the game will end with the Bruins shutting New Jersey out 3-0 and punching their ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs off the back of the Devils.
Jack Hughes really shines in games where the pace is high like this, but what’s surprising to me is that where he really shined tonight was in the defensive zone. Hughes is beginning to learn how to combine his excellent ice vision with making smart plays in the defensive zone including breakout passes. Smart breakout passes lead to clean zone exits and, as he created several times tonight, breakaway offensive chances. He was also putting in the effort to make those defensive zone plays where only effort will do, which is a huge and welcome improvement that I look forward to watching for many years to come.
Scott Wedgewood, despite the scoresheet, was excellent. He made 25 saves throughout less than 30 minutes of play, and they weren’t cheap saves. He made saves on Pastrnak, Bergeron, Marchand, Hall, among a dozen other Bruins players before finally being beaten on a cross-ice pass most NHL goalies aren’t getting to. Bergeron’s goal was technically saveable, but not likely when you place one of the best players in the league wide-open in the crease with the puck. And I certainly don’t expect him to save the third goal, through a screen and on a bouncing puck deflected off his own defenseman’s legs.
Kevin Bahl continues to impress me. I’m usually someone who is a bit disdainful of tall defensemen because I expect them to be another Tyler Myers, a professional giraffe with little else to call a skillset, but in only a few games Bahl has shown he is a whole different Bahl-game (I’m sorry they’re just so easy). He makes smart defensive plays, contributes to the offense when we have any going, and has paired extremely well with fellow rookie Ty Smith. Smith, a professional puck mover, has a good shot of his own but much like a playmaking center, having a cannon on his ‘wing’ is showing to be a great addition to his skillset.
Basically, the whole team. They were just not ready for tonight. Playing four games in a row against the much more sluggish Philadelphia Flyers I’m sure did not help and I expect they’ll have a much better, sharper game coming onto the ice tomorrow night, but tonight’s game overall was just off. As a young team with speed supposedly a large part of our game plan per Ruff’s style, we absolutely need to be able to hold our own in games like these.
Time, both time playing together and time playing in this kind of games, will do us well, so unfortunately it’s just a matter of patience and waiting for this young team to get their big boy NHL sea legs ready to handle games of this pace against opponents of this caliber. Tonight, they did not have them. Hopefully tomorrow we will see a little bit crisper hockey ready to take on the Bruins in the second half of the back-to-back.
AJ Greer made his Devils debut tonight, and I found myself utterly whelmed by him. I didn’t see a ton of mistakes that stood out to me any more than any other player but I also didn’t see a whole lot that impressed me. I did like the hit he took to make a play early in the game so I will give him that. His stats were absolutely horrific— his whole line struggled, but he did have the worst CF% on the team at a whopping 20%. This was a bad game overall and I don’t like making a judgment on a player based on their first game in general, so I’m giving him the grace of not putting him firmly in the bad category just yet, but I need to see some improvement in the next couple games because right now I am definitely not impressed.
Do you think the Devils will be able to bounce back for tomorrow night, or will we be watching another game like this one? What did you think of Greer’s debut? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and thanks for reading!